NS4863 : Paisley Abbey: the Hamilton Memorial Tablet

taken 4 years ago, near to Paisley, Renfrewshire, Great Britain

Paisley Abbey: the Hamilton Memorial Tablet
Paisley Abbey: the Hamilton Memorial Tablet
The location is the St Mirin Chapel, gifted and endowed by James Crawford of Kilwynet in 1499. For context, see NS4863 : Paisley Abbey: the south transept; the same metal gate is shown there, from the other side, and the pier that is on the right in that picture is the one on whose far side this incised slab is mounted. That item also gives some references, in addition to those mentioned in the end-note, of specific relevance to the chapel.

The St Mirin Chapel later became the family burial place of the Hamilton family, later known as the Abercorn family. Claud Hamilton, who, as a child, had been appointed Commendator of the Abbey, became Lord Paisley in 1587. His son became Earl of Abercorn in 1603.

The stone shown in the present picture was originally laid flat, serving as a cover for the Hamilton vault. The inscription is as follows:



The text is followed by a glyph, and the Abercorn arms occupy the lower part of the stone.

Translation, from [J Cameron Lees] (work cited in end-note): "To God, the greatest and best. Erected by Claud Hamilton, Lord Paisley, and Margaret Seton his wife, with tears, to the pious memory of the infants Margaret, Henry, and Alexander Hamilton, their beloved children, who died: Margaret, on the 23rd of December in the year of grace 1577, aged 3 months 22 days; Henry, on the 15th of March 1585, aged 3 months 2 days; Alexander, on the 21st of November 1587, aged 8 months 3 days. Happy souls! – to you your parents pay the last rites, which you should have paid to them."

- - • - -

Near the south-western corner of the chapel were a couple of other large slabs, partly concealed behind a curtain. Though I have not depicted them separately on this site, these two large inscribed slabs are worth describing here in some detail.

(As an aside: I found the abbey staff, with whom I was speaking about these stones, and about various other antiquities to be found in and around the abbey, to be extremely helpful. I am grateful to them for letting me take a better look at these very interesting memorials. In what follows, I have focussed on the details of the inscriptions, mainly because that is what interests me, but also partly in the hope that, by doing so, I might help readers who come across similar inscriptions, and who wish to understand them.)

The first of those slabs has the following inscription around the edge (with a gap because the top right corner of it is missing; the missing words were probably "an honourable man", or something very similar (as in NS4863 : Paisley Abbey: the Cardonald Stone). I have used a slash to indicate where the text passes each corner of the stone: "Heir lyis an[ ... ... / ... C]aiptane Robert Crawfurd granter of Paslay i þe sepultur / of James Crawfurd of Sedil qlk decessid þe fourt of July, þe Ȝeir of God 1575" ("in the sepulture ... who deceased the fourth of July the year of ..."). "qlk" stands for "quhilk" (meaning "which", but it can also mean "that" or "who", as it does here).

That outer text is continued by a smaller inner inscription: "quha neur rasevit honors of na man and hes maid to mony sundry". For any readers who do not understand Scots, this means, roughly, "who never accepted honours from any man, but who bestowed plenty of them upon many", but I prefer the pithier Scots original.

Captain Robert Crawfurd is here described as "granter of Pasley", that is, grainter (granary keeper) of the monastery, and he is buried "in the sepulture of James Crawfurd of Sedil (Seedhill)", his great-grand-uncle. For more, see page 218 of [J Cameron Lees]. "sepulture" now usually refers to the act of burial, but here refers to the burial place.

- - • - -

The other large slab that was partly behind the curtain bore a prominent sword design, and an inscription that was harder to make out. It is reproduced on page 217 of [J Cameron Lees], and is as follows:

"[h]ic Jacet Jaco / bs crawfurd de Kilwynet q obijt xx ... / ... ... / ccccº nonageº ix orate p aia eius".

This may look a little odd, but all of it is intelligible (an aside: on the stone, "Kilwynet" looks rather like "Kilbynet", but this is just a peculiarity of blackletter scripts, such as the one employed in this inscription).

The first part means "here lies James [Jacobus] Crafwurd of Kilwynet, who died on the 20th ...". In fact, this stone commemorates the James Crawford who founded and endowed this chapel in 1499 (as mentioned in the first paragraph of this item).

The second part is "ccccº nonageº ix". When the inscription was complete, this part of it would have been something very close to "año dñi Mº ccccº nonageº ix", meaning "in the 1499th year" (a very similar expression is found elsewhere in the abbey on an ancient stone commemorating Abbot John de Lithgow).

1499 was the year when the St Mirin Chapel was founded by James Crawford, but the occurrence of the same date here on his tombstone seems to indicate that he died in that same year (see page 70 of [Mackie]).

"ccccº" (400th) is marked ordinal by the (raised) "o", the final letter of the word when it is written out in full: that whole section, with all abbreviations expanded, would read "anno domini millensimo quadringentensimo nonagensimo ix".

The last part of this incomplete inscription is an exhortation to pray for Crawford's soul: "orate p aia eius", for "orate pro anima eius".

According to Howell (see end-note), the two Crawford stones just described were previously located on the floor of the nave.
Paisley Abbey
The abbey's website – LinkExternal link – provides a summary of its history, and other information.

It is thought that an early religious community was established at Paisley by St Mirin. In the twelfth century, Walter FitzAlan, High Steward of Scotland, had a priory established on his lands in Paisley, to be founded by monks of the Cluniac order; one of Walter's charters confirms certain lands "to God and Saint Mary, and the church of St James, and St Mirin, and St Myldburge de Passelet [Paisley], and to the priors and monks serving God there according to the order of Clugny".

In its design, the original priory was modelled on the Abbey of Cérise in France. The religious establishment at Paisley was elevated to the status of an abbey in 1245, after lengthy negotiations.

The abbey suffered grievous damage during the Wars of Independence: according to an annal entry (here translated from the original Latin), "in this year, 1307, the English burnt the Monastery of Paisley"; nothing remained but blackened walls. Some repair work was started in 1317, but little progress was made for several decades: however, by 1389-90, we have notice of glass being purchased for the abbey's windows, showing that repairs were then well under way.

A great deal of rebuilding was carried out during the time of Abbot Thomas Tervas (mid-fifteenth century), and, a little later, by Abbot George Shaw. The buildings appear to have been damaged by fire towards the end of the same century. It also seems that, at some point in the abbey's history, its central tower collapsed, damaging adjacent structures.

At the time of the Reformation (1560), the damage done to the abbey was limited, perhaps partly because the building was already in poor condition.

Subsequent developments will not be described here in detail, but it is worth noting several restorations of the abbey that were carried out in recent centuries: (1) 1788-89, under the supervision of Dr Robert Boog, minister of the First Charge at the Abbey (Boog was also responsible for piecing together what is now called the Tomb of Marjorie Bruce); (2) 1859-62, under ministers Andrew Wilson and J Cameron Lees; (3) 1898-1907, under the ministers Thomas Gentles and J B Dalgety; and (4) 1912-28 (but interrupted in 1918 by the War), under A M Maclean and W Fulton. See Howell, cited below, for details.

In the 1990s, the Great Drain below the abbey was rediscovered (see Malden, cited below); it has subsequently yielded many interesting artefacts, some of which are now displayed in the Sacristy Museum, within the abbey.

Selected references:

▪ "Historical Description of the Abbey and Town of Paisley", Charles Mackie (1835).
▪ "The Abbey of Paisley", J Cameron Lees (1878).
▪ "Paisley Abbey: Its History, Architecture, & Art", Rev A R Howell (1929).
▪ "The Monastery and Abbey of Paisley" (various contributors), edited by John Malden (2000).
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Monday, 26 August, 2013   (more nearby)
Friday, 4 October, 2013
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